Just me & You

It’s easy for us to complain or, to put it more gently, bemoan or grumble – because there’s plenty each day that tries to take away our peace.

Things like unexpected pain, illness, financial burdens, you can add yours here…

Found myself in the unexpected recently. Not fun – and as the past couple weeks have gone by, the solution hasn’t come. The two people most likely to be able to help are out of town. When I found out they were gone, the first words that came to my mind: totally dependent. Just me and God. “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:31b NLT)

Maybe like me, when you find yourself in that place without answers, your first response is: why? Why now? Why this? I have tried so hard, why?

Jesus isn’t offended by our questioning, but He’s not obligated to show us the answer either. We may someday discover the why of it – or we may not. The real question is: No matter what, will I trust Him? “This I declare about the LORD: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; He is my God, and I trust Him.” (Psalm 91:2 NLT)

Here’s what we need to remember – the Father always hears us when we call to Him. He always listens to our prayers – our simple cry of ‘help’ – our silence when we don’t know the words. Ever present. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble.” (Psalm 46:1 BSB)

Refuge – I like that word. A picture of our God. Hiding us in Him. You may be thinking ‘but I don’t see His help, I’ve been waiting so long’. I get that. He gets it too. We are impatient, we doubt. But it’s when we go to our Refuge that the strength to endure sees us through.

Because, for some things, the relief won’t be until eternity – and we are given just enough grace for today. “The LORD hears His people when they call to Him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles.” (Psalm 34:17 NLT) Rescues us – some sweet day, there will be no more aches and pains, nor sorrow, nor any of this. For now, it’s just You and me, God – and that is enough.

Live In

In Georgia there is a town whose tag line is: Great and Growing. Little things like a town having a motto that’s fun and uplifting, help make life a little lighter.

There’s a lot of hard, negative, not so good things we could dwell on. Not just in world affairs, politics, economics, etc. Things in our own little worlds that trip us up and cause us heartache, pain, discomfort. But these things are temporary – really, they are.

Maybe it’s time to have the attitude of the under five group. One of my grandsons, when asked how his day was, or how his class went, or what he thinks of just about anything answers with a sincere: Great! He answers that way even when he’s tired out or not feeling good. Maybe he instinctively knows this: “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” (Philippians 4:8b NLT)

Hmm, I tend to get lost in the rhetoric at times. Sometimes let fretting dictate my thoughts. It’s not like we should hide our heads in the sand and not know what’s going on. But the point is, where do we let our souls dwell? In the urgency of wars, crime, hateful actions that abound, corrupt politicians, etc.? No, we pay attention to our world, but seek God for direction. God’s asking us to bring our thoughts back to that which will most encourage us.

You see, the very next verse says: “And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9b NIV)

I think that’s what all weary souls are searching for, just a bit of peace. God says we can have it in abundance. But we won’t find it on social media, the news, our bank accounts, or a vacation.

When Jesus was about to give up His life so that we could live forever, He gave us something special: “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27 NLT)

We don’t always accept the gift. We put it on a shelf and look for our own definition of peace. Perhaps it’s time we dust it off, open it up, and let it fill us mind, heart, and soul. “Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7 NLT) That’s it, live in Jesus.

Very Near

So much going on in our world today: wars, famines, drugs, sex trafficking, inflation, financial uncertainty – and much more that makes us fret or fear.

For some, they huddle, retreating more and more from society. A valid response given so much hate and love of men grown cold for fellow man. For others, they just ignore and think things will continue to go on much as they always have.

Many Christians believe it could be the end times, when God destroys all that we currently know and replaces it with a world that has no more of all the stuff that makes this one so hard. And they could be right – we don’t know the day or hour. But it could also be another millennia or two. Regardless of any of mankind’s reactions, the truth is, God is not far from His people. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble.” (Psalm 46:1 BSB)

So, in times like this, maybe a mix of all the responses is good. Be wary but don’t worry. Pay attention and think about the best preparation that works for you and your family. Live knowing God could return any moment but also knowing if He doesn’t, He has not abandoned you.

But there is a response that is appropriate in all circumstances at all times: dig deeper into the Bible, pray more, be bold to share Jesus, rest knowing He is sovereign and He has it all figured out. “It is good for me to be near You. I choose You as my protector, and I will tell about Your wonderful deeds.” (Psalm 73:28 CEV)

This world has been devolving and spinning towards an end since Adam and Eve decided they could be like God. Every day we are closer to the end. What that will look like is spoken much of in the Bible. The very things we are seeing unfold continue to fulfill the Words of the Lord. “Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door.” (Matthew 24:33 NIV)

Unfortunately for this weary world, things will continue to be hard and get harder. Yet God calls us to always be prepared. “Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.” (2Timothy 4:2 NLT)

Jesus is very near. He is our very breath. He holds all things together, He holds us. Draw near, very near.

From here to…

For a while, a little two-year-old in my life was enamored with Buzz – you know Buzz Lightyear. Though he was still learning to talk, ‘To infinity and beyond’ rang throughout the house, in the car, wherever.

When you’re two or thirty-two or anything under fifty, life seems to stretch out ahead of you without thoughts of here and now ending anytime soon. But once you become grammy age and the reality of how quickly time moves you towards wrinkles and aches, eternity becomes something a lot more thought goes into – or at least it should.

“He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 NLT)

When our cat of sixteen years passed, I wept and longed for that purring and sweet fur ball in my lap. The next time my almost three-year-old grandson came over he asked where kitty was. Pop-Pop tried to explain but boys who are three cannot grasp that something ends. Life is new and wondrous and that untouched belief in Jesus points them (unknowingly) to forever.

And it’s true – forever is real for every single man and woman. Where that eternity will be spent is the question. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.” (John 3:36 NIV)

Here and now and a promise of tomorrow is not reality. Life quickly passes us by. God has a purpose and a plan for each of us on this earth – to those who will ask Jesus to be their Savior there is a promise of never-ending tomorrows.

But we are to live out His purpose and plan for us and give Him all glory so that as many of those we love and those we cross paths with can see our joy and want it for themselves.

To forever and beyond is the promise that gives us peace no matter what happens in this world, no matter the aches and pains and aging, no matter what. From here straight to God’s presence. “And this is what He promised us—eternal life.” (1John 2:25 NIV)

Not Alone

I’ve noticed that when we – all people – experience heartache, illness, tragedy, loss – our tendency is to feel like no one gets it. Like we’re the only ones who have experienced this. We retreat inside ourselves and, at times, nurse the hurt like we’re protecting it somehow.

What’s true is this – there is no heartache or pain or loss that hasn’t happened before. Life on planet earth is not without these things. More money can’t fix them or erase them. No drug can make them disappear. No other person has all the answers.

But there is hope – and when we come to that realization, healing and life begin. “Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean He no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?” (Romans 8:35 NLT)

I often wonder how those struck by the tragedies of war (think Ukraine currently or our own soldiers, home without limbs and terrorized by PTSD) navigate life without Jesus. As someone survives the middle of the night storm but their home is in shambles, how do they pick up the pieces?

It’s foreign to me because I’m on this side of salvation. This side of salvation has a Navigator for life, someone who is intimately involved in our broken pieces. “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.” (Romans 8:38 NLT)

There’s a great song by Zach Williams and Dolly Parton (see music video below) that summarizes the realization believers in Jesus come to: no matter what, Jesus is right here with us. We are never alone. Even when we don’t see it or can’t feel it.

In those inevitable times when life takes a turn we wish it hadn’t, there is no need to retreat, no need to nurse the hurt. There is freedom that is only found in the presence of the Lord. “No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39 NLT)

We will never walk this earth alone – though everyone desserts us – still a constant Companion holds us close. Our testimony to this is what a hurting world needs. We can’t fix the brokenness; we might not even know how to empathize. But we can point to the God who does. Speak His Name – there is something about that Name – it moves heaven earth to capture our hearts and heal our wounds.

More GOOD News

Ever ask this: ‘do you want the good news first or the bad news’? Then there’s always the line: ‘I saved the best news for last’. Pretty much our days are like that – good mixed with the bad, and some that are the best!

This week is called Holy week. During the last week of Jesus’ life on earth the disciples were part of some really good news days…and some really bad news days. There was what’s called the Triumphal Entry, where, as Jesus entered Jerusalem, the hearts of the people were moved to proclaim Him King. They greeted Him shouting “Hosanna” – literally “Save us!” “The crowds that went ahead of Him and those that followed shouted…’Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ “ (Matthew 21:9 NIV)

But there were hardened hearts as well, blind hearts, arrogant hearts. All this celebrating Jesus moved their hearts to hatred and evil. Their plotting to rid themselves of the nuisance of a ‘Messiah’ was well underway.

As the week progressed, good news and bad news mingled. It also happened to be the week that led to the Jewish celebration of Passover, many people were coming and going and preparing.

This brings us to Maundy Thursday as it’s called on the church calendar. We now know it as the Last Supper. The one where Jesus would plainly tell His disciples His time to shed His blood for them, for us, had come. The one where they just didn’t get it. The one where betrayal would end the day. “The traitor, Judas, had given them a prearranged signal: ‘You will know which one to arrest when I greet him with a kiss.’ “ (Matthew 26:48 NLT)

Friday was a totally bad news day. Everything that could go wrong did. Jesus was under arrest, He was beaten and mocked, and ultimately crucified.

Saturday does not have a name. A while back I heard it called Silent Saturday. And it was. For the disciples and all who followed Jesus there was fear, uncertainty, and hiding – unbelief that the man they knew to be God’s own Son, had been brutally killed. Now what?

God knows us well and He saved the best news til last. Because Sunday did come, Jesus did not remain in the grave. He spoke and ate and rejoiced with those who knew Him for the next forty days. And indeed, those were all good news days. For from that point on, death was no longer to be feared – evil had been conquered – and eternal life with Jesus was available to all who would call Him Savior!

This is Easter – this is Resurrection Sunday – this is what it is all about. May our joy be contagious every day of the year as we share the GOOD News knowing it far out shadows any and all bad news days. “…suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightening stood beside them…’Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, He has risen!’ “ (Luke 24:4b, 5b, 6 NIV)

Why the Celebration?

Resurrection Sunday is gaining momentum as the title for celebrating Jesus raising from the dead. It is more appropriate and sends the message of what the day is all about. Easter brings visions of colored eggs, bunnies, chicks, spring, etc. Truly, what does any of that have to do with the biggest miracle of all time?

I tend to think in terms of what we’re teaching children. Mine are grown, now with six grands, I feel more sensitive to the messages they hear.

When my three were little, Santa was only talked of in terms of something fun, not something real. My thought was: if I lie about a man who delivers gifts, why would they believe me about Jesus who they can’t see with their physical eyes. Children are concrete thinkers – the mixed messages of the world can leave them confused and untrusting. “Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts.(1John 5:21 NLT)

It comes down to this: do we enjoy celebrating Easter because of the fun – or because of the Savior?

We tend to corrupt a lot of good things – Christmas was only about trees and gifts in the last couple centuries. Now the shopping and tunes start in September, maximizing the profits, forgetting the Savior as a babe. “And you will recognize Him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12 NLT) Hmm, the sacred lost in the hustle.

Instead of pastel colors and bunny stories, maybe Easter can be all about the fact that Jesus died, rose from the grave, and now we get to live forever. I want my grandsons to know the Person and desire to follow Him – not remember baskets and candy.

I hunt eggs with one of my little guys at random times throughout the year for the fun of the hunt. I tell him plainly, when Resurrection Sunday nears, that the celebration is all about Jesus. It’s great to have fun, but if we’re setting aside a day because of Messiah, Christ, Savior – let’s make it plain we value how we celebrate.

“And we know that the Son of God has come, and He has given us understanding so that we can know the true God. And now we live in fellowship with the true God because we live in fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ. He is the only true God, and He is eternal life.” (1John 5:20 NLT)

Finished

I’m either hot or cold when it comes to completing a project. When it goes well, I tend to go all in and work at it til it’s done. But if there are issues, if it’s not turning out right, if it’s taking too long – well, let’s just say I give up easily.

One of my grandsons is similar. We’ll get started on an art project, and since his little hands aren’t adept at making things look like he envisions them, he’s done before all the paints are out.

Thankfully, this isn’t the way God approaches things. “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Philippians 1:6 NLT)

That’s good news, because you and I are needy projects – and there’s much to be done. Just when I get comfortable in my time spent reading the Bible, living better for Jesus, giving Him praise, I do something stupid.

That must be why we have all the history and lives told to us in the Bible. Recorded history from beginning until Jesus was crucified. People were no different, no more innocent, no less sinful. David was God’s chosen king given a great kingdom, admired by all. Then it happened, roaming eyes led to lies and murder.

David wasn’t the only one. The Bible reads like today’s headlines. Wars, famines, racial tension, and on and on. Seems like no one gets it right. But there was One.

Only One. Jesus, Messiah, the Christ. For all the wrongs past and future – He made a way. Even assured us that the Holy Spirit who resides in us will help us avoid the stupids (when we let Him). “Then Christ will make His home in your hearts as you trust in Him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.” (Ephesians 3:17 NLT)

Thankfully, God doesn’t give up like we do. He doesn’t say this one is taking too long, or this one keeps messing up. He says: this one, she has the light of my Son in her; she has a ways to go, but I will go with her. Until then the Savior intercedes for us and covers over all our imperfections. Finished – when He says we are, and not a moment before.

Power

All the world is focused on Ukraine. What’s next? How long? Why?

“Leaders” of nations play power games to see who has what territory, control of their citizens, and the next photo op. All under the illusion that they have power. As though they are little gods. As though God does not exist.

Here’s the deal: nothing happens without God. He is sovereign and He is in all the details of life. Yes, sinful man will pursue his selfish ways and there will be sorrow. But do not doubt that God has purpose in all of man’s affairs – and His purpose is never thwarted. And for those who love Him and claim His Son Jesus as Savior, He will work out all things for our good. Even when…it seems so hard.

This is easy for me to say sitting thousands of miles away from destruction. The importance of saying it isn’t diminished by current ease. In fact, it is during the ease that we must prepare ourselves for times of war, or famine, or unrest in the streets, or disease, or heartache.

If we wait as a nation or as an individual until trouble is upon us, how then do we weather the hard realities, pain, and misery? “For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was His plan from before the beginning of time—to show us His grace through Christ Jesus.” (2Timothy 1:9 NLT)

God, throughout time, and Jesus when on earth, did not ignore the realities of what mankind has chosen in rejection of Him. This choice, which we’ve all made, results in what the world is experiencing. World leaders will not fix it, billionaires cannot control it, and climate change isn’t the cause of it.

But joy and peace can be found in the midst of it all. In the bomb shelter, prison, hospital ward, loneliness. I learned something today that I hadn’t realized before. Longing for heaven and an end to all the ugliness isn’t wrong, but if that’s my focus I’m forgetting why Jesus came to earth in the first place.

What is it about heaven we think we want? Lots of answers to that, but unless our conclusion is Jesus, we answer incorrectly. Jesus came so that we could have Him, He is what makes heaven more than we can ask or imagine. By giving us His Holy Spirit now, all of that peace, joy, rest is already ours. Pastor Jimmy Rollins reminds us: “Don’t allow what you’re looking at to determine what you see.” What we must keep our eyes on is our Prince of Peace, our true Leader, who is all powerful and whose kingdom has no end. “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.’ “ (Matthew 28:18 NIV)

I Know You

Do you know me? We may know the grocery store clerk from seeing her weekly, but we know little about her. We know our children’s spouses, but we don’t live with them, so we know them only to a certain extent. A ‘best friend’ is known deeply through much time shared, but still not an intimate knowing. Even with a spouse, with all the years of closeness and trust, there are still gaps in knowing each other.

God wants us to know Him. We can’t see or touch or hear Him with our physical bodies. How then can we know Him? “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is Himself God and is at the Father’s side, has made Him known.” (1John 5:20 ESV)

More than knowing others, however, is the desire that we are known – wanted, loved, accepted. When my mother died, I felt like the only one who had always known me was gone. Truth is, Jesus knew me even before her.

There’s a lot we might prefer others not know. No one is perfect. Not in light of a perfect God. We should be in awe that He knows all our sins and failures yet still loves us.

What kind of love is this? One so deep, all-encompassing that in our surrender to and acceptance of His Son He will wipe our slate clean?

This love is a fully known kind of love. A knows it all and still says ‘You are mine and I am delighted’ kind of love. “Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known.” (1Corinthians 13:12b CSB)

That must be why we call it amazing grace, amazing love. Who, but the Father, would offer such redemption? Everything about us is laid bare before God. He cleanses us in the blood of His Son and calls us beloved.

Jesus says to those who believe: ‘I know you’ – and in the hearing, all our anxiousness fades; for that knowing is a soul knowing and a promise of forever in paradise. As the thief on the cross was known and promised the same: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with Me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43b CSB)

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